New Wetland Sites Dedicated To Help Reduce Nitrates

By Dan Voigt
August 6, 2009

Emmetsburg News

Article Photos



 CREP?GROUNDBREAKING – A 550 acre site east of Graettinger was one of two locations in Palo Alto County that broke ground for a new Conservation Resource Enhancement Program on Tuesday. Various entities were on hand to witness the ceremonial turning of the first shovels of dirt. From left to right are Ray Brown, Palo Alto Soil and Water Conservation District; Les Zobrist, Palo Alto County Farm Service Agency?Director; Karey Cleghorn, Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture; Kim Fay, Palo Also Farm SA; Luann, Dale and Margaret Opheim, landowners; Art Hampe, Palo Alto Pheasants Forever; Brian Garrels, Palo Alto Ducks Unlimited and Steve Henderson, Palo Alto County Conservation Board. A similar site west of Ayrshire was dedicated Tuesday morning. — Dan Voigt photo

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It may seem hard to imagine, but the dedication of two wetland areas in Palo Alto County on Tuesday will eventually have an impact in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Through the Iowa CREP, or Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, two new wetlands will eventually do their part in reducing the amount of nitrates that make their way down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. 
For many years, scientists have watch the growth of a so-called “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, where excessive levels of nitrates have affected the ability for aquatic life to prosper in the waters. Studies have determined that the nitrates are coming from the 31 states that drain to the Mississippi River. The nitrates, left over from the breakdown of fertilizers used on croplands, flow down the river and collect in the Gulf’s “Dead Zone.” 
Research has estimated that 18-22 percent of the nitrates in the Mississppi River are coming from Iowa farmlands, and it is the purpose of CREP wetlands to try and reduce those nitrates through natural filtration. 
During Tuesday’s ceremonies, Dean Lemke, Water Resources Bureau Chief of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, noted that CREP wetlands can effect anywhere from 40 to 90 percent reductions in nitrate levels in groundwater. 
“CREP?sites such as this one have a lot of technology involved in them through the reduction in nitrates they can accomplish, but they will also provide wildlife habitat areas, sound land conservation practices and create new landscapes across the countryside,”? 
Lemke noted that the construction of such CREP sites is funded wholly by fees paid through ag chemical sales by producers. 
Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Karey Cleghorn noted that Iowa is being looked to for leadership in the nitrate reduction effort, through the research into nitrate reduction. “It is the local efforts such as the Salton 7 site this morning and this Opheim site that add to the bigger picture in making Iowa a leader in efforts to reduce the Gulf hypoxia zone.” 
“It takes a lot of cooperation between agencies to make one of these CREP sites a reality,” noted Matt Lechtenberg, CREP Field Support Coordinator. “We are very thankful for the cooperation of the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Soil and Water Conservation District, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited and the local landowners in making these sites a reality. Without everyone working together, they wouldn’t happen.” 
Don Hagen of the Palo Alto Soil and Water Conservation District also agreed with that statement. “The key to all this is the collaboration of all these agencies. Nothing would happen without the collaboration we’ve seen here.” 
Dale Opheim, who owns the 550-acre site in Vernon Township along with his wife Luann and mother Margaret, agreed that the usefulness of CREP sites was obvious. “These efforts to reduce nitrates have to start somewhere. Reducing them where they first enter the system only makes sense.” 
“We know that our producers will need to utilize fertilizers to effectively produce the crops to feed the world, but we don’t want them to use fertilizers to excess,” Lemke pointed out. “That’s why these CREP sites will be so useful in reducing nitrate movements. We really need to recognize the Opheims for being leaders in this area through their imitative and stewardship.” 
With 35 CREP sites completed in the state and another 50 in various stages of planning, design or construction, the program has a bright future. 
“Our calculations show this site, during its lifetime, will remove 400 tons of nitrates from the water supply,” Lechtenberg noted. “We will be seeing a lot more of these projects in the future.”


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